Thursday, April 15, 2021

Covid Musings

I try to post every week, but on Monday, I received my second Covid shot.  Whew.  I felt like I fell off a turnip truck, only to have it back over me.  I was down and out for one and a half days.  So, alas, my blog had to be put on hold.  

I must say that if a measured, second dose (presumably I now had antibodies ready this time) made me feel this way, I cannot even imagine how an unmeasured, first time encounter with Covid would be like.  I don't want to sound melodramatic, but I do understand why people die from this--it is utterly overwhelming--and I had a very mild encounter with it.  But I am thankful for the vaccine.  

While I was in bed, I read about small pox, the flu epidemic of 1918-19, and polio.  Morbid?  No, perspective:  I realized that our fight against such overwhelming enemies has always been fraught with fear, suspicion, accusation and division.  Sad how we humans don't really change when it comes to facing our mortality.  Death is scary, yes, but not understanding how and why it comes is even scarier.  Such uncertainty makes us turn on each other, God and those in medical and governmental authority.  Why?  Because suddenly the universe feels random. 

Civilization is one vast push back against the vicissitudes of existence.  Following the grazing herds is all fine and dandy, as long as they migrate in a discernible pattern and you can bring down enough to feed your people.  But if you can't, starvation comes a-knocking.  So, grow your own:  control the food supply.  But feast or famine are only a harvest away:  Either you bring in abundance to your barns or you weep at the pathetic crop that now spells disaster.

Harness a water supply.  Build along rivers, dig cisterns, pray for rain. Without water, life screeches to a halt and all your efforts at living become focused on surviving, if you don't die of thirst on the way.

Then, there are your enemies. You build a wall around your city, to protect your homes, gardens, markets, temples and peace of mind.  Now you don't have to wait for the fury of your enemies to come and undo all your security.  You need only to shut the gates.  You wait.  You fight back from a high vantage point and wait for your enemies to bugger off out of frustration.  They go looking for easier pastures and you settle down once again, with hearth and home safe and secure.  Dire outcomes from random attacks seems somewhat moderated. 

Life has lost its hunter-gatherer unpredictability.  Springtime, harvest, gathering in and waiting again for spring seem to secure the future.  You were here this year, your family was fed, your city withstood attack and your barns are filled.  You are secure in this ordered pattern--randomness, like the wild dogs that howl at your city gates, is kept at bay.

But invisible enemies stalk the land.  No amount of abundant harvest, potable water, vanquished foes and secure gates seem to keep these enemies out.  A cough, a sniffle, a rash, a fever, a loose stool, or utter fatigue means that randomness has just made its appearance.  The afflicted will either recover or die.  The invisible enemy will slip away.  

Until the next time.

Throughout human history, there was always a next time.

Civilization, although effective in helping one generation pass the torch to the next generation, was never able to keep such incursions away until the 19th century made significant inroads into what caused disease and what could be done to fight it.   

I grew up in the 60s.  My mother was a daughter of a prominent cardiologist.  Her stepmother was a nurse.  So, you can imagine just how clean my house was: washing hands, bathing every day, clean surfaces and the smell of Lysol were how things were done.  My mom couldn't get us to the school gym fast enough for our polio vaccine.  We were given every vaccination available.  The risk of actually getting any number of childhood diseases far outweighed any concerns my mother had about the vaccines.  

All of the childhood diseases were conquered, as it were, with a shot to the arm.  

But we were still bundled tight to keep ways chills.  We stayed home from school if we had a sniffle.  Even a mild cold brought out the nurse in my mom: Vicks Vapo-Rub, a thermometer, 7Up and saltine crackers were deployed to relieve the misery.  Bactine for cuts and this nasty red liquid antiseptic, Micurochrome, were always at the ready to stave off my mom's fear of infection.  Listerine, named after the man who conquered sepsis in the operating theater, was a godsend. 

Infection could be controlled and modern 50s medicine, with its emphasis on antiseptic procedures,  gave my mom some assurance we would not get mortally ill from a little cut.  Yes, antibiotics were available, but a positive outcome from an infection was not a given. 

One day, I stepped over the line and committed a sin so grievous that my mom went ballistic.  I never understood why until much, much later.  My neighbor's kids had dug a hole in the backyard as a makeshift swimming pool.  I loved to swim and in I went, splashing around and loving every minute.  For some reason, my brother ran home and tattled, and when I came home, wet, muddy and happy, my mom was furious.  She hosed me down out in the garage with no mercy, screaming at me the whole time.  I then had to take a bath and get really clean.  

She never said the word, "Polio."  

Many, many years later I listened to an NPR series on polio, with people talking about how every summer, the silent specter of polio haunted every swimming hole, every pool and no one knew whose life would be forever altered by its touch.

I never connected why my mom was so angry until that moment.  Yes, I had been vaccinated, but I am sure that somewhere in the back of her mind, the possibility of contracting polio still haunted my mom.

When I had my two children, they received the usual battery of vaccines:  DPT, MMR and others whose names I do not remember.  I was a little afraid, but the idea of not getting my children vaccinated never occurred to me.  I grew up in a time where doctors and scientists had put up city walls against diseases that carried children away, and I was not going back to the 19th century when a sniffle or a cough could mean death.

My daughter caught chicken pox and her infant brother did so as well.  Her cousins did so as well, and one of them had pox inside her throat and in her lady parts and was in excruciating pain.  But I didn't think any of them would die.  I had "vaccination civilization" on my side.  Then my daughter caught hand, foot and mouth disease and was so weak that she couldn't climb into bed.  I still didn't consider death an outcome.  In the 80s, we were even more modern in medical advancement than when I was a child.  I had my kids dress warmly, but I wasn't so terrified of a chill that I insisted they dress like Eskimos. Every fever was not a cause for panic.

Now, we face Covid.  My grandchildren are facing what my mother faced:  The very real possibility of a disease that could carry them off.  We had no magic vaccine when it hit. Millions have died. Masks. Isolation.  Quarantine ( a holdover from the Black Death when you had to stay locked up for 40 days) and all sorts of conflicting information have made people cynical, scared and willing to engage in recrimination:  Faith over fear.  We won't be told by the government what to do.  I think it's a hoax.  I think it's overblown.  Wait 'til after Trump is reelected--the numbers will go down.  Choose hope.  No mandatory mask-wearing: that's the first step towards dictatorship.  No one is shutting us down. We will meet. 

We humans do not react well when the walls of civilization are breached and randomness reappears in the form of an invisible menace. When we face a possible early death--ours, or the ones we love--and uncertainty about the future, we start asking questions:  Is this the beginning of the end?  Is this another epidemic of Black Death proportions, or like the flu of 1918-1919?  When will Covid go away, or will it?  Why aren't the vaccines doing their job, 100% of the time?  Will I still get sick?  Will I die? Aren't viruses only suppose to carry away the very young and the very old? (This callous attitude of Hey, this disease is scary only if you are in a particular group, reminds me of the AIDS epidemic and the hardening of the public's heart at that time).

I have faith.  

You have fear.  

Lines have been drawn in the faith community sands.  We stand staring at each other, as our hearts harden.  Our attitude of I will prevail because of my faith makes us feel superior over those who are struggling to comply with health regulations.  

We look at the "Covid Jobs" and offer all sorts of explanations like Job's friends did, while desperately trying to keep our own fear--that could be me next!--at bay.

But the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Good people get swept away in epidemics.  Our fallen world with its invisible enemies are no respecter of persons.  Instead of uniting and trying to work together to patch up this breach in our walls with love and neighborly concern, we have made it about us.  

Me. Me. Me.

We are not unique in how we've reacted.  The Jewish people, conjunction of planets, bad air, filth, malevolent spirits and the dead not staying dead have been replaced with Big Pharma, Democrats, the media, those who hate Trump, it's a hoax or it's overblown as THE explanations for this epidemic.   

We have modernized our scapegoats, but we still have scapegoats.

We have modernized our fears, but we still have fears.

In our effort to wrest control back from the random nature of disease, we default right back to our father Adam: We blame each other.  

It has been said that truth is the first casualty in war. 

Sadly, I say that fear is the deadliest symptom in an epidemic.



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